The Best Knock-Out Interview Question

by Marcianne Kuethen
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If you’re in the process of conducting interviews, you may be wondering which is the best knock-out interview question to simplify your interview process. After all, with all candidates, your goal is to eliminate the poorest fits as quickly as possible. While knocking out candidates may sound cruel, it’s actually a compassionate way to respect their time and free them to pursue jobs that are a better fit. It also allows you to spend more time digging deeper with the most promising candidates.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were just one knock-out interview question? But rarely does one size fit all. However, there are a few areas which many employers have in common that may provide a knock-out question or series of questions. It all starts with filtering candidates’ resumes.

Screening Resumes

Here are three common areas to consider how you would define your tolerance or threshold. Once you’ve defined it, it’s easy to come up with a knock-out question to match. The answer may be so evident from the candidate’s resume that you don’t even give him or her an interview.

  1. Longevity–As an employer, what’s your longevity tolerance or threshold for this position? Nobody wants to hire candidates who don’t have staying power, persistence, and loyalty. It’s costly to make a bad hire. A decade ago, most employers thought an employee should have a history of five years or longer at a single job. (The average employee tenure in 2016 was 4.2 years.) Anything less earned candidates the reputation of being a job hopper. Today, with the growing influence of Millennials in the job market, we think about that differently. For an individual contributor position, we’d expect 2 years on average, and for a leadership job, we would now expect 3.5-5 years on average.
  2. Commuting tolerance–How far away are you willing for your employees to live? Most companies are very sensitive to how much driving time their employees must spend on the road. Fatigue takes a toll and hinders productivity. Additionally, in metropolitan areas, employers must take into account the unpredictability of what can happen between a worker’s front door and the door of the business. There’s a big difference between a person who says he is willing to drive two hours and one who has actually done it and is willing to continue such a lengthy commute. Discovering candidates’ potential commute and their experience with long-distance commuting may knock them out of the running.
  3. Qualifications–What are your “must-haves,” your minimum requirements for your open position? If your candidate doesn’t meet the minimum requirements for education, skills, and prior experience, you can eliminate him or her right away and move to the next resume in your pile.

Asking Your Knock-Out Interview Question

Once you’ve narrowed down the resumes, you’ll want to screen your remaining candidates either by phone or in person. To do so, you’ll want to develop a qualifying set of questions to probe more deeply into their experience. One of the first you’ll want to ask to prevent you from wasting everyone’s time is your knock-out interview question. A knock-out question, says Rick Girard, talk show host for Hire Power Radio Show, should involve one of your company’s core values. (To hear a conversation between Rick and Amtec’s CEO, Scott Kuethen, on how to successfully structure your interview, click here.) Or it could involve one of your must-haves for the position, to help you immediately eliminate candidates who aren’t a good fit. Here are three examples of areas where your knock-out question could save you time:

  1. Use of Lingo–Many businesses have acronyms for a standard practice or commonly used software. Your knock-out interview question could be developed around the specific lingo of your field of business. For example, if you’re looking for a contracts and supply chain person, you could ask about a candidate’s knowledge of FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation). If you’re filling a construction position, your candidates should be familiar with OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). If they don’t know what you’re talking about, you can kindly end the interview and move on.
  2. Show of Soft Skills–Let’s say you’re interviewing for a manager position to oversee your team of individual contributors. You could ask, “What gives you the greatest satisfaction in the type of work that you do?” What you hope to hear is that the candidate is exhilarated when his team reaches their full potential, or overjoyed when her team succeeds. But if you only hear, “It’s all about when I win,” that just became your knock-out interview question.
  3. Fit with Company Culture–Is there a specific aspect of your company culture that requires a certain personality? Perhaps the nature of your business is full of pressure, deadlines, and stress. You could ask candidates, “Tell me about a time when you had to work under pressure for a period of time.” This would be your knock-out interview question when a candidate answers, “I had a super stressful job in a marketing company, but I changed jobs because I hated the deadlines. I’m more about being accurate and methodical.”

The knock-out question, if used properly toward the beginning of an interview, will save both you and your candidates valuable time. However, remember that the best knock-out interview question will only get you so far. Once you’ve eliminated the worst fitting candidates, you still must use prepared behavioral interview questions to guide your remaining interviews. Only then can you really get to know your candidates and find the one who fits your organization the best.

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